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How Much Weight Can A Horse Carry

 

I just want to say up front that this topic is not meant to make anyone feel badly about their weight.  The question at hand is how to better pair horses and riders so that the weight ratio between them is comfortable for the horse and not causing damage to their bodies in the short or long term.

I have read a variety of answers to the weight question, and that is unfortunate for the riders who just want a straight answer.  Anyone who is in the horse business, whether it's a trainer, riding instructor, vet, farrier, breeder, saddle maker, magazine publisher, etc. knows that saying things that cause people to be uncomfortable or feel wrong will cause most of those people to go elsewhere for those services.  Like it or not, it's a factor, and it influences the information that we get as consumers and horse owners.

The best we can do is gather information from unbiased sources, use common sense, put egos aside, and most of all LISTEN TO THE HORSE!

What the Horse Would Tell You

As a trainer who has ridden hundreds of horses of various ages, breeds, and sizes in a variety of sports disciplines for many different sized owners, I can tell you that it matters a great deal to a horse that they be able to use their bodies well.  Horses innately know that anything that restricts their movement or balance is making them vulnerable.  Anything that compromises the body, stresses the mind.  A stressed mind contracts muscles that should be relaxed for healthy movement and will eventually tear down the body.

I have to strongly question any experiment that determines an acceptable weight for a horse to carry by noting what it takes to cause something in his body to not function properly.  No one would determine the ideal RPMs or temperature for a running engine to be "just before it blows up."

Some Underlying Issues

I think the main points of contention on this are that:

(1) People are sensitive about their body weight and are taking it personally, or are unwilling to even consider the situation more closely because it's emotionally uncomfortable.

(2) People already have a horse/pony that's too small, and changing that situation would mean adding another horse or parting with their current horse/pony.  This is extremely emotionally uncomfortable and could create a stressful financial situation.

(3) Many people have had accidents riding, and the thought of riding a larger horse that meets the ideal weight ratio is very scary to them.

I think that if we approach this with tact and reason, there isn't really any part of the problem that can't be solved.  There is a horse that is a good fit for everyone out there.  As an industry, we just need to remind ourselves that we all love horses, and that it's worth taking the extra bit of effort to find the right riding partner.  Compromising the horse because we are resisting change is not acceptable.

What's A Good Weight Ratio?

Optimal Performance - The horse is able to use their body, as if it were not carrying a rider.  10% of the horse's weight

Satisfactory - Not causing harm to the horse. 10-15% of the horse's body weight

Satisfactory For Low Level Activity - Light riding and most of the *other factors are optimal  15-20% of the horse's weight

Potential Welfare Risk - The horse is probably overloaded and prone to injury or accident.  +20% of the horse's weight

Other Factors

These factors are not enough to compensate for a Welfare Risk situation; however, they can improve the horse's comfort and safety in any case.

  • The horse's weight is well balanced muscle, instead of fat.
  • The rider has good core strength to minimize sudden or extreme weight shifts in the saddle.
  • The saddle and saddle pad distribute the weight well, and allow complete range of motion of the spine.
  • The horse is on solid footing, not too deep or slippery.
  • The horse is ridden in self-carriage and within the limits of his fitness level.
  • The horse is ridden in an athletic "round" frame that is more able to carry weight.

A Great Reference Article

Here is a link to one of the better articles that I have read on the subject.

The Great Weight Debate: How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

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